Andrew Malcolm (copy)

The 2020 election is shaping up arguably as the most fascinating presidential selection event in modern history.

Republicans are going with an incumbent whose post-inaugural job approval until last weekend has never exceeded 46%, not coincidentally the exact same percentage of the popular vote he received.

Democrats overwhelmingly say their top issue is ousting Donald Trump over any conceivable policy proposals. But two dozen of their wannabe nominees have raced far from the electable center of the political spectrum to argue instead over a smorgasbord of trillion-dollar freebies.

The Republican who captured the Electoral College by slim virtue of some 70,000 votes in three key states has done virtually nothing to expand his appeal beyond the angry, frustrated folks who found his blunt talk refreshing.

The man who’s been married three times has worked diligently and effectively to reinforce his loyal political base, primarily among evangelical Christians. And it’s worked.

Instead of courting political media, or at least pretending to stroke their oversized sense of self-importance as most chief executives have done, Trump has relentlessly attacked them as enemies of the people for reporting contrary to his views and wishes.

While a majority of Americans tell pollsters they definitely will not vote to extend Trump’s White House lease for a second term, a majority also say they believe he will be reelected.

How does that work? For that matter, how does any aspect of this unusual scenario fit into understanding U.S. politics in the summer of 2019?

Sharp partisan splits come and go in American politics, mainly centered on elections designed to divide the country into Us and Them. That’s how parties mobilize ground troops and money and enforce discipline on voters. But this time, neither party is the least bit interested in attracting newcomers into their tent.

The Democrats’ convention comes first next summer. Trump will have a month to gauge the ticket that emerges from Milwaukee. What if in that time Mike Pence claimed he was tired of attending foreign funerals?

A 74-year-old Trump would dominate news cycles for weeks with a suspenseful selection process that ended with a 48-year-old Nikki Haley as his ticket mate.

Then there’s the money problem. We’ll know next week what each candidate raised in the second quarter. Even combined, however, the field won’t equal the $105 million the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee reported.

Another way the 2020 election will surprise is that like 2016, money will not likely be the determining factor. As strangely simple as it sounds, the candidates will probably be deciding factors.

By election day in 2016, even the dimmest voter knew Trump was unorthodox and unlikely to win. This time, though, they’ve experienced his style almost daily. Will a strong economy and job market, if they stay strong, be sufficient to overcome any buyer’s remorse?

In the last century, elected presidents seeking a second term have won 13 of 17 times, especially if they can make the election about their opponent, not their own record. The economy was key.

It seems impossible that Democrats could again nominate as bad a candidate as Hillary Clinton. But then, it once seemed impossible that Clinton could find a way to lose to an adopted Republican so unlikely to win.

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